Alberta government passes bill allowing for firing of election commissioner
EDMONTON -- Despite accusations of corruption from the official opposition, Alberta's UCP government has passed a bill that effectively terminates the contract of an election commissioner investigating the 2017 UCP leadership race.
Bill 22, the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act, is a multi-pronged piece of legislation that passed a third and final reading Thursday.
Besides dissolving several funds and committees, the bill also merges the offices of Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson and Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler.
The move pushes Gibson out of a job amid an investigation he's been conducting into allegations of illegal donations in the 2017 UCP leadership race that Kenney won.
Kenney has been accused of using a "puppet candidate," Jeff Callaway, to discredit Kenney's rival Brian Jean in the leadership contest—allegations which the now-premier has denied.
More than $200,000 in fines for improper contributions have already been handed to several people linked to the party.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley previously asked Alberta Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell to refuse to give royal assent to the bill, saying "there has never been an abuse of power like this in Alberta or in the country." Mitchell denied the request, saying she would only meet with the premier, according to Notley.
In a twist, the Office of the Ethics Commissioner released a letter Thursday in reply to Notley's concerns saying that anyone being investigated by the commissioner who discusses or votes on Bill 22 could be in conflict of interest.
"It is likely that they would be improperly furthering another person's private interests under s.3 of the Conflicts of Interest Act if they were to discuss any aspects of Bill 22 or vote on the bill," wrote Marguerite Trussler.
However, she added, the ethics commissioner does not have the power to request a delay in proceedings for Bill 22.
"It would be improper for me to interfere with the political process," she wrote.
After learning about the potential conflict, the NDP called for an adjournment for more time to vote on the bill. It was defeated 33-11. The bill was later passed in the legislature.
Speaking to media after the vote, Gibson said he wasn't sure whether he'd be continuing his work once the bill received royal assent.
"If you read the bill, I think it indicates that the chief electoral officer has the ability to appoint a new election commissioner," he said. "Whether that's me or someone else, I have no idea, that's not up to me."
Notley and her caucus also spoke out after the vote slamming the government for pushing through the controversial bill with relatively little debate.
"Ten hours of debate," she said. "That's how long it took this UCP government to dismantle democracy and embrace corruption. Today's passage of Bill 22 is a black mark on this premier, this cabinet and every single private member who voted for it."
Notley said the NDP will now file "multiple complaints" with the ethics commissioner now that the bill has been voted through.
"I certainly hope that her office survives the investigation process, and I only say that partially humourously, because every single person who is called upon to hold this government to account now will fear because of what we've just seen," she said.
Kenney, who is in Texas to promote Alberta's oil and gas industry, has maintained that the positon is not being eliminated, just merged into the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer.
Fiery exchanges at the legislature
Bill 22 was introduced to the legislature Monday and debate over it came to a head Tuesday, when Notley was kicked out of chambers for refusing to apologize for claims that the Kenney government was obstructing justice by firing Gibson.
Tensions were high Thursday as the bill was debated again in the legislature.
UCP House Leader Jason Nixon defended the bill, saying the change was only administrative and would not affect the investigatory powers of the chief electoral officer.
"The chief electoral officer will have the full authority, Mr. Speaker, to continue or initiate any investigation currently being pursued," he said.
The government also passed a motion to limit debate on the matter to one hour to move the legislation along, which NDP MLAs criticized.
"I think if you want to bring forward a bill to fire the guy who’s investigating fraud, forgery and bribery in your own party, you should at least stand in this place and defend that," said Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman.
Gibson penned a public letter earlier this week that said he learned his job might be eliminated through media reports.
"My disappointment is not related to my personal role as commissioner, now or in the future,” he wrote.
“I am concerned about the potential negative impacts on the independence of election administration and the real and perceived integrity of the election process."